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Fun With Website Design

I’ve gotten a lot of question about the design for Louisiana Liar, so I thought I’d talk a bit about website design and what authors need. The good news is that authors do not need much that is fancy. Flash and music are annoying and slow (and music can get people fired if they’re surfing at work) – authors rarely need to sell stuff, so no shopping cart is necessary – so basically, an author needs a site that allows them to talk about their books and themselves. Pretty basic stuff.

In the beginning, I commissioned an artist to design my header for my author website and paid someone to host/update the site. I learned a little html a million years ago, but it certainly wasn’t going to get me by in today’s world of programming. Now, I’m not saying you can’t learn html or any other web programming language, but as most writers still work full-time to pay the bills, some decisions come down to time. I simply didn’t have time to learn to program a website and establish a writing career. Last year, I decided I wanted to take a stab at website design simply so that I could do updates myself. It’s just more efficient, especially for those of us that only remember things at midnight when we’re about to go to sleep.

I knew that I wanted a content management system that was Internet based so that I could access or update the site from anywhere and also give others access if the sites grew later on. I did a lot of trial run testing in different software but ultimately decided that WordPress was going to be the way to go. Tons of applications are available for WP for free and I figure if I ever code myself into a corner, I can hire most any 10-year old to fix it.

So I began my hunt through WP templates, but I could not find what I was looking for. I didn’t want a blog site, per se. I wanted a full-blown website for Louisiana Liar with a blog and just a website for my author site. So I started looking into code-building software and that’s when I came across Artisteer. The software is easy and powerful. Simply choose your settings/colors/text/font/etc. from drop-down menus, load a banner (or choose one from their stock) and choose which format to generate code in. Artisteer can convert your choices to templates for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla, so you have more options than just WP. Install the template on your hosting site, select it in your WP admin screen and you’re good to go. The Artisteer site also offers a lot of tips for manually adjusting sections of the code if you want something not included in the software. I have had no trouble making the adjustments I wanted.

The banner – well, that’s another story. The banner for my author website is the original artwork that I commissioned for my site years ago, but the Louisiana Liar site I built using Photoshop and stock graphics from istockphoto. I want to say that I am NO Photoshop expert, so the experience was somewhat painful. I have a bald spot and Coors has a third-quarter increase in profit to back up that fact. But in struggling with Photoshop, I managed to create a unique site with the colors and design that were exactly what I was looking for.

So I’m sorry for those that were hoping to purchase this template – it’s one-of-a-kind and not for sale, but I highly, highly recommend the Artisteer software for anyone looking to create a unique site for your work. Click this banner to get more information on Artisteer code-building software.
Artisteer - WordPress Theme Generator

And for anyone interested in acquiring a bald spot and consuming their weight in beer, Photoshop Elements is really all you need to generate good web graphics. Don’t bother springing for the full-blown version unless you’re really into graphic design or photography. The latest version of Photoshop sells on amazon for $70.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 (Win/Mac)

For web hosting, I chose HostGator and have been continually impressed with their customer service. First off, you can host an unlimited number of accounts for one ridiculously low price, but more importantly, they have tech support that can answer any stupid question you come up with – and trust me, I came up with a LOT of them. They have a live chat option, so during my setup and launch of both this site and my author site, I was able to get answers in a matter of minutes to all of my setup issues.

So a bit of a cash outlay and definitely a lot of time up front, but once you learn to design your own site, there’s nothing stopping you from designing several. For freelance writers, this approach would allow you to easily create custom SEO sites.

Have fun and happy programming!

Adventures in Self-Publishing

I’ve been a busy girl the last couple of months. My single title publisher is experiencing a business meltdown and my books (along with many other authors) are no longer shipping. So my agent and her attorney went to work on getting my rights back and were successful. That opened up a whole other side of publishing that I had zero experience with – self-publishing. I started researching the many options available to authors and finally decided that the best fiscal option was to post my books on amazon and bn directly and to use Smashwords to get my books in other arenas such as mobile phone apps, Sony, etc. I think the self-publishing option for ebooks is going to be a great thing as more and more authors get rights back to their backlisted books. Think about it – how many times have you discovered a great author only to find out their backlist is no longer in print. Sure, you may be able to find a used copy at HalfPrice Books or order it online (where you’ll likely pay more for shipping than you do for the book), but if you could easily click “Download” and have the book within seconds, wouldn’t you consider the option?

I bought the first generation Sony ereader years ago and loved it. This year I upgraded to the Nook and love it. There’s just something about the ability to carry 100 books in your purse that I love. Not to mention sitting on your couch at midnight and purchasing the next book in a series and reading it within minutes. Prices on ereaders are steadily dropping and the savings you get on ebooks will allow the avid reader to easily pay for the device in less than a year. For those that aren’t too hip on ereaders, amazon and bn offer ereader software for your pc, so if it’s a case like mine – where you may have started a series and now the books aren’t available, at least you can finish up the series.

I had to spend some time tweaking and formatting Word docs to get them ready for upload, but both amazon and bn used the same files and it was a fairly painless procedure. In fact, the worst part of it all was designing new covers. Photoshop and I have an ongoing love/hate relationship. I have only completed one upload for Smashwords (which is far pickier than amazon or bn) but it is going well so far. Altogether, the experience has been a great one for learning and is already showing a profit. For all authors who receive rights back, I highly recommend this way of offering your backlisted books to your readers.

You can check out my author website to see my cover design efforts, read excerpt and for links to buy the books if you’re interested. The best part about offering your books directly to consumers is the ability to offer them a significantly reduced price. Everyone loves a bargain. 🙂

Jana DeLeon

Barnes & Noble Releases PubIt!

PubIt! is Barnes & Nobles new self-publishing platform. Originally intended to launch summer 2010, PubIt! is appearing a bit later than expected, but probably with much fanfare in self-publishing circles. In the past, authors wishing to offer their books in the epub format on the B&N site, had to use a intermediary service, such as Smashwords, to get their books on the B&N site. PubIt! effectively removes the middleman, and in doing so, allows the author to retain a larger portion of the sales price of their works, making the service competitive with Amazon’s Kindle ebook format.

Here’s some facts about PubIt!:

If you price your ebook at $2.99 to $9.99, you receive a royalty of 65% of the list price.

If you price your ebook below $2.99 or over $9.99, you receive a royalty of 40% of the list price.

Your ebook can be priced from $.99 to $199.99.

You cannot price your ebook on PubIt! any higher than you are offering it on other ebook sites, and it cannot be priced higher than any print editions offered for sale.

For authors who have received reversion rights to their backlist, PubIt! allows you another venue for offering your backlist to new readers. The best thing about the B&N format is that its a universally accepted format by many ereaders and does not require The Nook for readers to enjoy your ebook.

For more information, check out the PubIt! site.

Demand Studios – Devil or Savior?

I wouldn’t be properly covering freelance options, especially content writing, if I didn’t talk about Demand Studios. A quick Internet search will provide opinions on Demand Studios that seem most often to swing in one extreme direction or another. Some writers declare DS a savior, while others are convinced DS is the devil.

Some entrenched in the old school of journalism blame companies like DS for the downfall of journalism. I think this is a bit of a stretch. I do not think that an article on How to Hang a Toilet Paper Roll somehow lowered the profit margin of any major news reporting agency. Bottom line, DS does not report news. It provides information articles for a collection of company-owned websites and outside clients written with the sole purpose of generating ad revenue in mind. So I call the reports of DS killing journalism bunk. They are apples and oranges.

Others argue that DS has cheapened writing by paying sweatshop rates while some contend that they make more per hour writing for DS than they could at a regular job. Again, I don’t think it’s appropriate to compare the pay per word at DS to the pay per word for a national distributed magazine. That would be no more accurate than comparing the pay per word for a magazine article to the pay per word for a technical manual. Writing is not all the same, and writers, of all people, should realize that. So what is the pay reality?

A regular 400-word DS article pays $15. Some shorter formats are available that pay $3, $5 and $7.50. Special projects are available to those that qualify that offer 400-word articles at higher rates of $20 and $25. Based on posts on the DS forums, I’d say the average DS writer writes mostly $15 articles at a rate of two per hour. That’s $30/hour in pay, which, when annualized, equates to an annual salary of $62,400. Sure, some will argue that self-employment tax makes that same $62,400 less than salary paid at a regular job. The additional 7.65 percent of tax paid due to self-employment adds up, but so does gas, oil changes, tolls, dry cleaning and business clothes expense of a regular job. If one also considers the available tax deductions for the self-employed, then the person working for home is likely to net more of that same $62,400 than the person earning the same salary at a regular job.

Sounds great, so why all the complaining?

The DS system of writing is not for everyone. DS provides specific style guides and rules for article creation. Copy editors review articles not only for grammar but for factual accuracy and to ensure that the information given meets the title requirements. If an article falls short, the CE can request a rewrite. If the rewrite falls short, the article is rejected and the writer is out the time and money. Some writers do not feel comfortable or perform well working within such strict guidelines. Some writers have a limited range of knowledge on DS topics and find that the time to research an article outweighs the money made by writing it.

So is the system perfect, otherwise?

Of course not. DS is not heavenly. System glitches occur that make people groan. Guidelines are often inconsistently distributed and enforced. CEs and writers often interpret guidelines differently and butt heads. But the reality is, it’s an article processing machine. Hundreds of thousands of titles are available to write. There are no quotas or limits, so no matter how much or how little time you have available, you can make money writing at DS. And then there’s the payment processing. Unlike many content companies that pay once a month, DS processes payment for articles approved twice a week, far more often than any regular employer I know.

Bottom line: I started writing for DS a little over a year ago and have been perfectly happy writing for them. I hold a full-time day job and have novels under contract, so I write articles in between other deadlines. Where else could I obtain part-time employment that allows me to work from home, whenever I want and as much or as little as I want, then pays me within a week or two for all the work I’ve completed? Despite my busy schedule, I’ve managed to make an additional $17k in my first year of writing for DS. Not too shabby.

But as with all things, your mileage may vary.

Your Writing Competition

Especially in a tight economy, aspiring writers can’t help but think that there’s too much competition. They’re sorta right. There ARE a lot of people who think that owning a copy of MS Word and the ability to type mean they can be writers, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ever do the hard work learning writing technique to take their work to a publishable level. I started writing fiction and learning to write fiction nine years ago. Eight years ago, I attended my first national writer’s conference. 2,500 writers in one hotel, all chasing the same dream. It was both exhilarating and daunting.

I stood just outside the entry door for the first night party looking inside. It was packed with writers – some published, most not – and the thought passed suddenly through my mind “what in the world are you thinking? How can you compete with all these people?”

About that time, my mentor stepped up behind me, and in addition to being a technique genius, she must also read minds. She leaned over a whispered “Take a good look. 90 percent of them will never finish a book. Of the 10 percent that do, only 5 percent will be good enough to publish.”

It was one of those eye-opening moments for me. She hadn’t just drastically reduced my competition – she’d eliminated it.

You see, even if all 5 percent of those writers wrote a publishable book at the same time as me, an editor who loved their book and my book, would buy both. There really is no competition. There may be a lot of unprepared writers clogging submission channels and agent/editor appointments at conferences, but they’re not going to hinder you in publisher any more than the 5 percent who are good enough to publish are. Your only competition is with yourself. And getting the first book sold is just the beginning. There is no “arrived” or “set” or “done” in publishing. With every book you must strive to be bigger, better, greater, more passionate, more ______, than you were in the book before.

So don’t let the figurative competition sway you from your dream. You, your keyboard and your imagination are the keys to your success!